How councils are coping with cuts to social services budgets

A LEADING think tank has identified significant differences in the way local authorities in Wales are coping with cuts to their social services budgets.

Demos, in association with Scope – the charity for disabled people – has produced a pamphlet, a map and a league table outlining their research findings.

Carmarthenshire was judged the council that is coping best, while Monmouthshire comes bottom of the rankings.

The assessments were based on a range of factors including budget changes to older people’s care and changes in user charges for various social services.

Bruce McLernon, director of social care, health and housing, at Carmarthenshire council, said: “Despite the very difficult financial environment local authorities are working in, we in Carmarthenshire have continued to make social care a priority. An additional £3.4m was allocated for adult social care in 2011/12, and at the same time we have continued to develop a partnership strategy strongly geared towards working proactively with the independent and third sector to ensure that services are delivered efficiently and effectively.

“While concentrating our resources to develop innovative services for people with substantial and critical needs, we have made sure that people with low level needs are signposted to other services in the third sector. For example, the local authority has been able to transfer all its luncheon club and day club provision to the third sector where the services are being actively developed, and by doing so we have been able to redirect resources to frontline services including dementia and home care, where there continues to be highest demand.”

Monmouthshire Labour councillor Armand Watts said he was very concerned at the authority’s place at the foot of the table.

He said: “The county is often seen as a prosperous area, but deprivation is increasing under this Tory administration and there is a desperate need to focus resources on the most vulnerable.”

But Monmouthshire rejected the report’s findings. Paul Matthews, the council’s chief executive, said: “If you read this report you get a totally misleading picture of what we do in this county.

“Contrary to the report’s claims, our spend has increased by nearly £2m this year to £34.529m from £32.7m in 2010-11. We can also categorically state that we have not reduced frontline services to vulnerable people.

“We are one of only four councils in Wales to set access to service eligibility criteria at ‘moderate’ meaning that we help more people because most Welsh local authorities set access levels at high or substantial. We do this because assisting vulnerable people is one of our three priorities.

“The report places great emphasis on how much money is spent; we place great emphasis on how well money is spent and whether it is contributing to our outcomes.

“We are focused on how many people are actually helped and how lives improve as a result of that help.”

A spokesman for Demos said the organisation stood by its findings and insisted that its assessments had been based on published material.

He said: “The aim of the map is not to name and shame councils but to highlight best practice and innovation so that councils can make the necessary cuts while protecting the frontline and their disabled residents.”